Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Good to the Last Drop

Maxwell ain’t in the house today. But I am and on this I 8 Wednesday I’m giving you 8 things that make a novel good to the last drop for me.

Textured Characters
A jaded acrobat, a sniffling, overly emotional business executive with a propensity to give money away at random, a young prodigal with only nine fingers and a flurry of Jim Carey jokes up her sleeve. Who are these people? I don’t know, but I want to. I feast on reading well-rounded, fleshed out characters with depth, motivation and the all-important fascination factor.

Hook Sentences
I look for sentences that snap. Sentences that wake me up and give me the sensation of inhaling coffee grinds. There’s nothing that beats memorable Snap, Crackle & Pop lines sprinkled throughout a novel. In the right place at the right time it’s sentences like this that cause me to say out loud, “Oh so good.”

Creative Descriptions
Equal to a whopping hook sentence beginning or ending a scene is an imaginative detail that leads me to believe I’ve just read an original thought. Gutsy details inspire me. I hit the mother lode on this when I read Peace Like a River. Bend an ear. Get this:
“Once in my life I knew a grief so hard I could actually hear it inside, scraping at the lining of my stomach, an audible ache, dredging with hooks as rivers are dredged when someone’s been missing too long.”
Bold. Beautiful!

A Fluid Plot
I’m drawn to stories with movement. When I pick up a book I expect a journey, even if the venture is merely an emotional one. Hopping all around makes the lining of my gut swish and shred. And we already know from the quote above my stomach has taken enough of a beating.

Someone I Can Identify With
Now, I don’t mean this down to the nitty gritty. Hair color. Eye color. Someone who grabs their neck when their nervous (any...way). What I’m referring to is an immediate sense of connection. I can often tell when an author has done their homework with their characters. The opposite is also true. People like to identify with others. It establishes trust.

Tension—Make Me Grind My Teeth at Night
Does this really need explanation? I think not. Make me care and I’m yours ‘til the last drop. Bore me and I’m puttin’ you down.

A Memorable Theme, Symbolism or An Unforgettable Scene
Chocolate pie anyone? The Standover Man. A praying mantis. Each of these may mean nothing to you. But they float three wonderfully written novels to the surface of my thoughts. Chocolate pie: Now if that wasn’t one of the most memorable scenes in The Help. I’m tellin’ ya. The Standover Man helped carry the theme in The Book Thief and the praying mantis beautifully represented the use of symbolism in The Hour I First Believed.

This one may surprise you: A Cover I Enjoy Looking At
At any given moment if you were to crash my house you’d see I live like a whirling dervish. I’m apt to pick up and put down a book I’m reading twenty times in one day. Call me a sucker for aesthetics, but I like attractive covers. I’m drawn to them. On days I’m feeling wiped out I’ll sit on the couch and just hold my book for some time, gaining energy to read. As I’m enveloped by the couch I like to look down and see something that reminds me of the journey I’m about to reengage in. A picture that brings me back.
What makes a novel good to the last drop for you?
*head over to Sage Girls Ministry to read how we could learn a thing or two from turtles
**photos by flickr


  1. WOW! Great post!!! Of course. It's Wendy's place.

    Hmmm. Characters that are transformed!
    Moral premises that ROCK MY SOCKS OFF!!!

    GREAT writing

    Speaking of great, have a great day!

  2. It's a great list! Love the way you think. I wouldn't add a thing.

  3. Great list, Wendy! Characters definitely make all the difference to me--textured, like you mentioned.

  4. A story I'm interested in, characters that have some, and angst.

    You covered it all, lady.

    I'm not sure I CAN go to ACWF. I'm not a member, so can't register for the conference. If I showed up at the hotel and just hung out in the lobby, would they kick me out since I wasn't registered? Could I then write a book about being kicked out of a Christian writers conference? That was a joke. Should I risk it? I emailed Camy Tang, and she wasn't sure what to tell me. Now what?

  5. You pretty much covered it all for me. I, too, just randomly pick out a book from my bookshelf just to read the first page and admire the cover. :)

  6. I HAVE to have a good first chapter otherwise I lose interest uber fast. Otherwise, yep - you covered it! :)

  7. I am totally biased by the cover art, ashamedly so.... :O)

  8. You said it all perfectly in my opinion. All I can do is step back and say, wow, I want to read that book too. Great list.

  9. Love this Wendy~ it was good till the las drop!

    Most novels that stay with are because of the characters, give me a flawed person and I'm hooked. They just resemble me so much:)

  10. Love this! All of these were spot-on!

  11. I totally agree with you, especially on tension. THis is huge for me. If a conflict can be resolved with a conversation, I'm putting the book down--or throwing it. It has to be gut-wrenching.

  12. Reading something that inspires me and leaves me forever changed. Thanks for this great post. Hope your day is good to the last drop!

  13. I love a pretty cover, too. It makes me want to pick up the book again and again and thumb through the pages. You HAVE to write a book with those characters in it--I want to read a story about a business exec that gives money away and a jaded acrobat. Please?

  14. All of the above! You summed it up nicely. And I'm with you on the covers; if I don't care for it, there's a good chance I won't pick it up. I'm working on being more open to varied covers:)

  15. Whew! You've given me so much to think about. I've just finished a manuscript with totally unsophisticated characters, not terribly good with words. Describing their thoughts in a new and fresh way has been challenging. I can make this work better; I know I can. Thanks, Wendy, for your stimulating entry.

  16. All that and an ending that will leave me with that warm happy feeling inside that will linger a bit after I close the book. :)

  17. Everything you mentioned and high conflict and a HEA ending (Because I write romance.)

    I love beautiful book covers. Like fine art.

  18. Wendy:
    You said it all and very well. When I worked in a library, I had keep up with what was new and the titles that were coming out soon. A co-worker told me about a book that she loved. I couldn't get into it at all. The words were bland. I didn't get beyond chapter two.

  19. What a fantastic list! I agree about the characters - give me texture and layers every time.

  20. I'm with Jen...I need the ending to be satisfying!

    And I love characters that I can "feel"!

    Now, need to go find some coffee...

  21. I am halfway thru The Help...and loving each and every word!!

    I was just talking to one of my daughters yesterday about this: there is a vast difference between writing a book and telling a story. When someone writes a book, it is just words on a page. When someone tells a story, it is a living, breathing thing that pulls you in and leaves you wanting at the words The End.

  22. Real real characters that are fully developed and not made from cardboard:))

  23. Wow!! This is a great post!! Makes me want to work harder on my novel - aspire to write something that meets these awesome requirements for an unputdownable read. :)

  24. Wendy, you have a great list! I will try to remember those in my writing. I too, am first drawn to the cover, if I don't know the author, or book. I love one that keeps me going to the end.

  25. Nuance.

    I love novels that explore different facets of one issue. For me a hook sentence is one that begins with rich story. THE BOOK THIEF, LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN, and COLD SASSY TREE are all excellent examples of stories that hint at larger stories.

    Nuance is difficult to achieve, but so necessary. Without we have the relentless drive of scene after scene without a break. Ugh. (Scenes are action sequences that are attached to driving the plot).

    Nuanced writing is writing that undulates with subtext both in story and character. It's the story that whispers in the night.

  26. Hi Wendy -

    Wonderful post! I remember those Maxwell House commercials on TV.

    Books with lots of action and interesting characters draw me.

    Susan :)

  27. To me, a great book takes themes that have wafted in and out of the action, dialogue, and ideas of the book and then ties them into a rope that draws you up and suspends you in the air while you savor the ending.

  28. I look for all the things you mention and perhaps one more: I want a book that stays with me, long after I turn the final page and reluctantly close the back cover. I want to feel a longing not unlike leaving a great vacation or a visit with old friends...

    I found you through Jen Chandler and I'm glad I did!

  29. EXCELLENT post! " I look for sentences that snap. Sentences that wake me up and give me the sensation of inhaling coffee grinds." I have to tell you, so do I. Not only do I wish that every book would do this for me, but I edit my novels until they sing an auria to me. I need to feel the love from almost every single sentence. It's a HUGE challenge but it is so important to give readers that snap, that fresh amazing scent that makes them say ahh...

  30. I have thought about writing a novel...but I think this advice likewise applies to most non-fiction! Thanks!

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  32. All of the above. I'm with you! But I'm beginning to think I have some problem. I didn't get into The Help. Just couldn't do it, and yet so many of my friends like it. What's up with that? Is it just that I don't like dialect? No that's not true, because I've liked some of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, as well as Zora Neale Hurston and some of the Harlem Renaissance writers. Didn't like it in The Help. This is almost a relief - now I know you and I aren't long-lost clones. :-)

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